by Rick Pearson
Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign is going after Republican rival Sen. John McCain, questioning whether the Arizona senator is offering contradictory language on the hot-button issue of immigration reform following a closed-door meeting McCain held with activists during a recent trip to Chicago.
The criticism leveled by Robert Gibbs, Obama's communications director, marked a day of accusations between the Obama and McCain camps over which presumptive presidential nominee is more guilty of political doublespeak--a shorthand way to describe pandering versus truth telling. The Obama camp's move may be aimed at deflecting criticism the Democratic candidate said one thing--promising to negotiate a pact with McCain on public financing--and did another by rejecting it.
In the aftermath of McCain's closed-door visit with more than 100 Hispanic leaders on Wednesday--sandwiched into a fundraising visit by the Republican contender--a conservative anti-illegal immigration activist who attended the meeting contended McCain was offering conservatives one view of immigration reform while telling Latinos another.
In the meeting, attendees said McCain promised that, if elected, Congress would pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. That's anathema to people like Rosanna Pulido, the director of the Illinois Minuteman Project, who attended the event. Pulido said McCain used the phrase "comprehensive immigration reform" three times. "To me, it's a code word for amnesty" for illegal immigrants to gain citizenship, she said.
Pulido, who is of Mexican decent, acknowledged she told the Associated Press she thought McCain was "pandering to the crowd" by making a major emphasis on immigration reform in his 15-minute speech. Another attendee, Democratic Illinois state Sen. Martin Sandoval from Chicago's Southwest Side and an elected Hillary Clinton delegate, met privately later with McCain. He said McCain's remarks about immigration reform in the larger forum only lasted about 90 seconds while the Arizona senator talked more about job creation, keeping taxes low and the war in Iraq.
Pulido and Sandoval don't get along at all and Pulido has dubbed Sandoval the "godfather" of the illegal immigration movement into the state.
"He's one John McCain in front of white Republicans and he's a different John McCain in front of Hispanics," Pulido said, echoing remarks she made earlier to the AP. But Sandoval said Pulido's comments and the resulting fallout over his own meeting with McCain were an "overreaction" and that he told the Republican contender the same thing he would tell Obama--"Nobody should take for granted the Latino community."
Pulido has been vocal in her criticism of immigration reform efforts. Among the Illinois Minuteman's Web site's features is an article discussing the likely success of a U.S. military-led coup of the federal government as a result of illegal immigration and the war in Iraq. Pulido also has maintained that increases of up to 90 percent in the property taxes of Chicago-area Cook County homeowners were due to the costs of bilingual education and the costs of providing health and other services to illegal immigrants.
There are a couple of issues of interest here.
Obama has had difficulty attracting Hispanic voters who flocked to his vanquished rival Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign. Now, the Obama campaign is relying on criticism leveled by a Republican conservative activist who has referred to the presumptive GOP nominee as "Juan McCain" to push their criticism of McCain doubletalk.
The Obama push may help drive some conservatives who already have raised red flags about McCain further away. McCain led a failed push for immigration reform that included a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants but the proposal met with overwhelming public outcry, particularly among Republicans. But it is questionable whether the criticism helps Obama with the Hispanic audience he is trying to draw.
Pulido said she found it ironic that the Obama campaign would try to use the immigration meeting and criticism of McCain for political advantage.
"(Obama) really has little room to say anything because the only person who has a worse record than John McCain on immigration is Barack Obama, selling out his own people, the African-Americans who suffer more at the illegal immigration crisis than any Americans," she said. "Those people have just suffered more, their jobs and benefits and all that. It's really shameful that he is using it because his record is absolutely shameful."
As for McCain, Pulido said, "He has lost his way in the Republican Party. I am a conservative before I am a Republican and I am at the breaking point, like other Republicans are. There is such a backlash with John McCain."
The Obama campaign cited a Jan. 30 debate among the GOP presidential rivals in which they contended McCain said he would not vote for his immigration reform measure today because the American people made it clear that border security was their top priority. "It was just one of several examples through out the week of John McCain being in a tortured debate with John McCain," Gibbs said.
Other examples, Gibbs said, was McCain's reversal on off-shore oil drilling, telling Hillary Clinton supporters last weekend that he had no litmus test for federal judges despite telling abortion opponent and one-time GOP presidential candidate Gary Bauer the opposite in 2000. Bauer told the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody that McCain, whom Bauer now supports, never made such a commitment in 2000.
The Obama campaign also said that McCain surrogate Carly Fiorina, in an appeal to Clinton's female supporters, noted that the Arizona senator "has never signed onto efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade," the landmark Supreme Court decision on abortion. But McCain, in a February 2007 visit to the early GOP primary state of South Carolina, said he believed the decision should be reversed.
Gibbs termed Friday "the end of pander week aboard the double-talk express of the John McCain campaign"--a takeoff of McCain's "Straight Talk express."
For McCain's part, Tucker Bounds, spokesman for the Republican's campaign, responded with this comment:
"Despite the wildly misinformed opinions of Barack Obama's spokesman, John McCain fundamentally believes that we need to secure our border, and then move forward to address the need for immigration reform in a respectful and compassionate manner that recognizes that we are all God's children. That's his position yesterday, today and every other day - before all the groups he meets with."